Everyone loves a good party—especially in the summer. What is more quintessentially summer than a backyard barbeque or beach cookout? Unfortunately, great parties often lead to even greater amounts of waste. When simultaneously grilling, refilling, and entertaining the last thing a host wants to do is deal with a mess—leading many party planners to opt for disposable serving ware that ends up in the landfill.
Jessica Holsey, College ’06, former shooting guard of the Harvard women’s basketball team, and co-founder of Susty Party, wants to change that. Based in Brooklyn, NY, Susty Party creates “disposable tableware that is compostable yet colorful, highly-functional, party-ready, and responsibly made.” From bowls to plates, cups to straws, all Susty Party products are made from carefully chosen renewable or sustainably harvested resources. Their party packs and tableware are non-toxic, made in North America, and made in partnership with non-profit factories that employ the visually impaired—oh, and they’re fun!
Featured on Shark Tank, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and in Martha Stewart Weddings and Forbes 30 under 30, Holsey says Susty Party is committed to doing social and environmental good, all while having a good time.
During a recent question-and-answer session, Holsey talked about her work, her advice, and how to throw a sustainable party.
OFS: As a company that uses renewable, non-toxic resources and materials, partners with the National Industries for the Blind to create jobs, and is environmentally-conscious, what are you most proud of?
Holsey: I am most proud of the fact that our consumers really care about how our products are made, who makes them, and where they are coming from. It's fun to share the story of the products and I'm happy that our customers want to let us tell it!
OFS: What are the greatest challenges you've faced starting Susty Party?
Holsey: Wow, do I have to pick just one? I deal more with production and operations, while my business partner Emily heads up design and marketing. I think that one of the biggest challenges on the production side would be finding new and exciting materials to work with that fit our robust criteria. The world of sustainable materials is still developing and there are plenty of products that we would LOVE to produce—hopefully, down the road, we will be able to develop them in a responsible and sustainable way. If anyone knows of a material that we could use to make a marine-degradable and home-compostable balloon...let me know!
OFS: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing sustainability today?
Holsey: I think the biggest challenge is educating people about what sustainability actually is and how to incorporate sustainable decisions and practices into their everyday lives. I am also a big fan of The Story of Stuff (an oldie but goodie).
Maybe the most challenging, for consumers, is that often, sustainable options don't exist or are not easily or readily accessible. The good news is that sustainability is definitely a hot topic and is increasingly becoming a priority for people.
OFS: How did your experiences at Harvard influence your decision to work in sustainability or become an entrepreneur?
Holsey: Being surrounded by so many inspiring people, who were thinking BIG and changing the world, at Harvard was an amazing and unique opportunity that I feel lucky to have experienced. I was the same year as Mark Zukerburg and I saw "the facebook" go from being a popular topic in the dining halls to a national phenomenon all while I was still in school. Entrepreneurship was definitely something that seemed attainable and achievable, and thinking outside of the box was celebrated. I learned more about sustainability when I met my business partner Emily post-college. She was an Environmental Studies major at Oberlin College and definitely showed me the ropes by suggesting books and introducing me to various topics and issues.
It’s great to look at how far Harvard has come since I left—there is WAY more going on in terms of sustainability and it's awesome!
Entrepreneurship was definitely something that seemed attainable and achievable, and thinking outside of the box was celebrated.
OFS: As you may know, LED bulbs were recently installed in Lavietes Pavilion, as well as in three other Athletics buildings. As an alumna of Harvard women's basketball, how would you like to see sustainability incorporated more into athletics at Harvard and beyond?
Holsey: Power generating courts! How cool would it be if all of those sprints and laps around the gym were converted into power? It might have made our pre-season workouts a little bit easier to handle.
OFS: What is your advice for inspiring "Greenpreneurs?”
Holsey: I would say, think big and never take no for an answer. This is a field that is still emerging, so you often have to make up your own rules as you grow. There have been so many times we've been told that things can't be done and instead of giving up, we head back to the drawing board and figure out how to tweak things to make them work.
OFS: Any tips for throwing a sustainable party (aside from using Susty Party packs of course!)?
Holsey: I think first and foremost, try to have fun! My business partner Emily always says, "In order to change the world, throw a better party!" I also think that people tend to forget about how much waste that parties and events can create. One thing I like to do is grab a marker or get some fun stickers and have guests label their cups so that they aren't “chuggin' then chuckin'” all night long. We also have some fun ideas on our blog to check out!
Please note: The products and companies included in the "Greenpreneuers" story series are for informational and educational purposes only to highlight the work of Harvard alumni in the sustainability field. Harvard University and the Harvard Office for Sustainability do not specifically endorse or recommend any of the products or companies in this story and the story may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of Harvard University or the Harvard Office for Sustainability.